This blog was contributed by Andrea Chavez-Kopp, Director of Formation and Digital Engagement at the National Catholic Educational Association (NCEA) in Arlington, VA.
Students are familiar with standardized assessments in other content areas, so when asked to participate in the Assessment of Children/Youth Religious Education (ACRE), it is important to approach administration of this tool with care to help get the best results, as well as put students and parents at ease as the assessment window draws near. The ACRE, typically administered in grades 5, 8 and 10 consists of 2 sections that are meant to complement each other in the type of information they gather. Part one is referred to as the “Cognitive Battery” while part two is referred to as the “Affective Battery.”
Part 1 of the ACRE includes questions that assess how much students know about Catholic teaching. Religious knowledge is only one aspect of understanding your school community and religious education program. Knowing information is very different from determining practice and beliefs in light of that knowledge, making Part 2 of the assessment a valuable tool.
Part 2 of the ACRE assesses attitudes, practices and perceptions. It focuses on the personal beliefs of students and their lived experience of the faith beyond content knowledge and understanding. This information provides a fuller picture of the culture of your school or parish, as well as reveals where your institution’s Catholic Identity may be particularly strong and where there may be a disconnect between what is taught and what is practiced and believed within the community and at home.
To get the most accurate picture of your religious education program, it is helpful to give students some context for the two parts of the assessment before administering it, so they feel comfortable and confident in answering each type of question. Consider the following to help prepare students to best answer the affective battery of the ACRE.
Emphasize the Purpose of the Assessment
Taking an assessment about religious beliefs and practices can feel intimidating to some people. Put students and adults at ease by explaining the purpose of the assessment is to help assess the religious education program as a whole, so the school or parish can improve how it delivers religious education. The results of the assessment should not be used as a graded evaluation of a student, nor in any punitive way. Students should understand that while their results don’t impact their grade, the results are important to your school, parish and diocese.
Explain Each Section Explicitly
Even young children can understand the difference between fact and opinion. Spending some time helping students understand that Church teaching on a topic may be different than their personal beliefs or practices may help contextualize the questions on each part of the assessment. Talk particularly about Part 2 as an important tool for understanding if the things that are being taught are different that what is believed and practiced. Reiterate that their results are confidential and not used as a grade.
Define Words That May Be Confusing
In Part 2 of the ACRE, students are asked to assign how often a statement is true. Taking some time to explain the answer terminology “often, sometimes, rarely or never” may help take the guesswork out for students trying to determine what the distinction is between those terms.
Reiterate the Instructions for Each Section of Part 2
The final section of the ACRE asks students to identify to what extent they see certain societal challenges as a problem in their school or parish. If the directions are not read carefully, students may identify issues as major problems in general, misunderstanding that the assessment is asking them to identify how often these issues are problematic specifically in relation to their school or parish. Not making that clarification to students may result in skewed results. Taking some time to help students remember why and how to answer each type of question will help avoid inaccuracies in the results.
Thank Students for Their Participation
The information gathered during the ACRE is vitally important to evaluating the success and opportunities for growth in religious education programs. Students who take the assessment are providing important data that will help the school or parish improve. While you want to stress that the ACRE is not graded nor will their answers be shared, it should also be communicated that what students say on this assessment matters and is taken seriously to make changes and improvements on a larger scale. Acknowledging the importance of their input not only helps your data set, but pastorally empowers young people as leaders in the church through their participation.